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Review update: The 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid nears 49 mpg on our watch

December 30, 2019

Ford touts the sky-high fuel economy of its 2020 Escape Hybrid and compares it directly with vaunted names from Toyota—but just how good is it?

We've already told you that we prefer the Hybrid head and shoulders above other 2020 Escape crossovers. What we haven't seen are numbers like the ones observed during our recent week-long test drive. Going only by its trip computer during one typical 15-mile commute, the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid averaged 48.9 mpg. That near Prius-like level of fuel economy makes the new Escape Hybrid a compelling option in the compact crossover segment. 

Keep in mind that trip-computer figures can be a few percent off true—or, in some vehicles, as much as 20 percent optimistic.

The Ford Escape was one of the first hybrid crossovers when it launched for 2005. Now it is essential for Ford to not only stay competitive with the plug-in hybrid and electric crossovers coming to market (including an Escape PHEV coming soon), but to keep pace with hybrid versions of the best-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4

For now, the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid has the edge in fuel economy. It comes with front- or all-wheel drive, whereas the Toyota RAV4 is AWD only. The EPA-rated fuel economy of the Escape Hybrid AWD is 43 mpg city, 37 highway, 40 combined. The RAV4 is not as efficient around town at 41/38/40 mpg. Once fuel economy figures are revealed for the Honda CR-V Hybrid, it could top them all if the 48-mpg Accord Hybrid is any barometer. We’re expecting 44 or 45 mpg combined for the CR-V, which also offer front- or all-wheel drive.

The Escape Hybrid’s four drive modes let drivers control the level of efficiency. In the Escape SE Sport AWD I tested, I was able to get that 48.9 mpg without hypermiling or taking any extra steps other than setting it to Eco mode. This typical town-to-town parenting commute included no highway driving, but there were a few long stretches of steady 35 mph driving. It recaptured enough energy to provide nine miles of all-electric power. 

Eco mode consistently returned exceptional fuel economy in exchange for an almost dead throttle pedal feel. You really have to push the throttle to the floor to get Eco mode going. 

2020 Ford Escape, 2019 New York International Auto Show

2020 Ford Escape, 2019 New York International Auto Show

2020 Ford Escape

2020 Ford Escape

2020 Ford Escape

2020 Ford Escape

On the return trip in Sport mode, which turns the instrument cluster red compared to the Eco’s blue background, the Escape averaged about 36 mpg with no electric miles; the only fuel-saving function in Sport mode is regen braking. It’s easy to forget it’s a hybrid. 

Modes are controlled by a button on the center console that forces users to go through Normal, Eco, Sport, then Slippery every time, so if you want to go from Normal to Sport, you’ll have to stop over in Eco first. A two-way button or even a dial would work better.  

Trip meters can be deceiving, but the disparity between Eco and Sport was consistent. Most Hybrid owners will choose to exceed the EPA rating with Eco mode. 

This makes the Escape Hybrid not only the best Escape to own, but also one of the better compact crossovers on the market. The 2.5-liter inline-4 uses a 1.1-kwh compact battery pack and an electric motor to generate 200 horsepower. A power-split transmission essentially acts like a continuously variable automatic transmission to provide overall smooth power  that is delivered quietly. The more you hammer the throttle outside of Sport mode, the more you’ll notice the switch of power between the engine and the motor. 

The small battery pack fits under the rear seat, so the Escape Hybrid doesn’t sacrifice much cargo space: Hybrid models have 34.4 cubic feet with the rear seats up, while gas models have 37.5 cubic feet. Hybrid models don’t have sliding second-row seats, however, which limits how you go about loading things in back, but they do fold flat. 

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid

2020 Ford Escape, 2019 New York International Auto Show

2020 Ford Escape, 2019 New York International Auto Show

2020 Ford Escape, 2019 New York International Auto Show

2020 Ford Escape, 2019 New York International Auto Show

Offered in either SE Sport or Titanium trim, the SE Sport is the value buy starting at $29,450 including $1,095 destination. AWD adds $1,500. My tester came with the $3,395 Premium package with a power tailgate, navigation, a panoramic roof, remote start, 19-inch wheels, and adaptive cruise control. Adaptive cruise is one of my favorite new car features, and Ford’s adds a little branding charm: When the adaptive cruise control or AEB senses a lead car, it will project an image of the rear of a Ford Fusion. On the highway, it projects the rear of the Ford Mustang, sequential boomerang taillights and all. It’s not worth $3,395, but it’s still cool. 

In addition to all the active safety features from the base model, the SE Sport Hybrid has a 8.0-inch touchscreen complementing the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The Hybrid can be had in Titanium trim, too; it adds heated leather-trimmed front seats, a heated steering wheel, a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, and other niceties that don’t add up to $5,000 more, or $36,095 total, in our book. 

The 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid is a recommended buy for consumers who want a fuel-efficient crossover but aren’t quite ready to start plugging in their cars at home. The plug-in hybrid Escape is expected later in 2020.

_________________________________________

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid SE Sport Hybrid AWD

Base price: $29,450

As tested: $34,245

EPA fuel economy: 43/37/40 mpg

The hits: Exceptional fuel economy in Eco mode, good value, premium technology, all-wheel drive.

The misses: Titanium not worth it, drive mode button instead of dial, slight rear-seat limitations


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